Berington, Joseph (DNB00)


BERINGTON, JOSEPH (1740–1827), catholic divine, was the third son of John Berington, of Winsley, Herefordshire, and Devereux Wootton, by his marriage with Winifred, daughter of John Homyold, of Blackmoor Park, Worcestershire, and was born in Shropshire in 1746. He was a cousin of Bishop Charles Berington [q. v.] When very young he was sent to the college of St. Omer, and after being ordained he exercised his priestly functions in France for several years, and then returned to his native country. Being of an ardent and enthusiastic temperament, he took an active part in the controversies of the day, and allied himself with the liberal, or moderate catholics, who were striving to obtain their civil and religious liberty. Between the years 1776 and 1814 he published numerous philosophical, historical, and theological works, in some of which he advanced opinions which gave great offence to his more orthodox co-religionists. He claimed the rights of a man and an Englishman, and openly declared that the refusal of those rights created in him 'a restless desire of change and revolutions.' He reduced Catholicism to a minimum, and he confessed that 'many things in the catholic belief weigh rather heavily on my mind, and I should be glad to have a wider field to range in' (Milner, Supplementary Memoirs, 45). So liberal, indeed, were his views, that on being invited to preach at the meeting-house of Socinian dissenters, he excused himself on the sole grounds of the novelty 'of the proposal, and that his complying with it would give offence to the society of which he is a member,' adding, 'I would not willingly shock the prejudices of others unless by that shock I might reasonably hope to surmount them.' Berington, being a thorough 'Gallican,' was drawn towards the protestants by an idea that the catholic religion remaining essentially one ought to be allowed to shape itself in each country according to the national character of the people. He became the leader of the fifteen priests who were known as the 'Staffordshire clergy,' and who were the most strenuous supporters of the 'blue book' party [see Berington, Charles, D.D.; and Butler, Charles].

In or about 1780 Berington appears to have been the priest at Oscott, a small hamlet about a mile and a half from Barr, in Staffordshire, where Miss Mary Anne Galton, afterwards Mrs. Schimmelpenninck, then resided with her father. That lady relates that Berington, Dr. Priestley, Mr. Boulton, and Mr. Watt used to attend the social meetings held at Barr, and she gives a graphic account of the ecclesiastic whose tall and most majestic figure, lofty bearing, and polished manners made an ineffaceable impression on her youthful mind. His conversation abounded in intellectual pleasantry; he was a finished gentleman of the old school, and a model of ecclesiastical decorum of the church of ancient monuments and memories; his cold, stern eye instantly silenced any unbecoming levity either on religion or morality; his bearing was of a prince amongst his people, not from worldly position, but from his sacerdotal office, while his ancient and high family seemed but a slight appendage to the dignity of his character. His voice was deep and majestic, like the baying of a bloodhound; and when he intoned Mass, every action seemed to thrill through the soul' (Life of Mrs. Schimmelpenninck, 36). It should be mentioned that he was the first priest who ventured — some years probably after this date — to dress in black, the catholic clergy having previously been obliged, for the sake of concealment, to wear coloured clothes, which were generally brown. For this innovation he was blamed by some of the regular clergy on the ground that it would expose priests to persecution (Husenbeth, Life of Bp. Milner, 100).

Berington afterwards resided for several years in the London district. In 1792 the vicars-apostolic censured many errors extracted from his 'State and Behaviour of English Catholics,' 'History of Abelard,' and 'Letters to Hawkins,' and even condemned one of them as heretical. He was accordingly suspended in the London district. After some years, however, he made 'a sort of illusory retractation,' and was restored by Bishop Douglass. The insufficiency of the retractation being ascertained, he was again suspended till he signed a more ample retractation, 13 Feb. 1801; but that he did not adhere to this any more than to the former is evident from his published letter to the Rev. John Evans. Bishop Milner, in a letter dated 1808, referring to the controversies in which he had been engaged, says that Dr. Geddes and Joseph Berington 'are not in general considered as orthodox brethren' (Nichols, Illustrations of Literature, v. 721).

In 1814 he was appointed priest at Buckland, in Berkshire, where he died on 1 Dec. 1827, aged 81.

His works are: 1. 'Letter on Materialism, and Hartley's Theory of the Human Mind,' 1776, 8vo. 2. 'A Letter to Dr. Fordyce, in answer to his sermon on the delusive and persecuting spirit of Popery,' 1779. 3. 'The State and Behaviour of English Catholics, from the Reformation to the year 1780, with a view of their present number, wealth, character. Sec. In two parts' (anon.), Lond. 1780, 8vo. 4. 'An Address to the Protestant Dissenters who have lately petitioned for a repeal of the Corporation and Test Acts,' Birmingham, 1787, 8vo. 5. 'The History of the Lives of Abeillard and Heloisa, from 1079 to 1163, with their genuine letters, from the collection of Amboise,' Birmingham, 1787, 4to. 6. 'Reflections, with an Exposition of Roman Catholic principles, in reference to God and the Country,' 1787, 8vo. 7. 'Account of the present State of Roman Catholics in Great Britain,' 1787, 8vo. 8. 'An Essay on the Depravity of the Nation, with a view to the promotion of Sunday Schools, &c., of which a more extended plan is proposed,' Birmingham, 1788, 8vo. 9. 'The Rights of Dissenters from the Established Church, in relation principally to English Catholics,' Birmingham, 1789, 8vo. 10. 'The History of the Reign of Henry the Second, and of Richard and John, his sons ; with the events of this period, from 1164 to 1210, in which the character of Thomas à Becket is vindicated from the attacks of George, Lord Lyttelton,' Birmingham, 1790, 4to. 11. 'Memoirs of GregorioPanzani; giving an account of his agency in England in the years 1634, 5, and 6; translated from the Italian original, and now first published. To which are added, an Introduction and a Supnlement, exhibiting the state of the English Catholic Church, and the conduct of the parties before and after that period, to the present times,' Lond. 1793, 8vo ; reprinted under the title of 'The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Catholic Religion in England during a period of two hundred and forty years from the reign of Elizabeth to the present time ; including the Memoirs of Gregorio Panzani, envoy from Rome to the English court in 1043, 1044, and 1046, with many interesting particulars relative to the court of Charles the First and the causes of the civil war. Translated from the Italian original,' Lond. 1813, 8vo. This work elicited some 'Remarks on the book entitled Memoirs of Gregorio Panzani' (1794), from the Jesuit Father Charles Plowden, who expressed doubts as to the authenticity of the manuscript. Benngton vindicated genuineness in the 'Gentlemans Magazine' for June 1795, and was answered by Dr. Milner in the number for September. Milner then stated that 'the well-known Mr. Joseph Berington, so far from being a Roman catholic bishop, has not even the ordinary commission of a Roman catholic clergyman in the ecclesiastical district in which he resides.' 12. An Examination of Events termed Miraculous as reported in letters from Italy,' 1796. This was answered by Father George Bruning in a pamphlet published the same year, and also by Milner in 'A serious Expostulation with the Rev. Joseph Berington upon his theological errors concerning Miracles and other subjects.' 1797. Berington's work is accompanied by an announcement of the first of five quarto volumes of the 'History of the Rise, Progress, and Decline of the Papal Power,' but this was never published, 13. 'Protestantism and Popery illustrated. Two letters from a Catholic priest to the author of the "Sketch of the Denominations of the Christian World," with his reply, tending to illustrate the real sentiments of the Catholics throughout the United Kingdom, With remarks on the subject by John Evans,' 2nd edit. Lond. 1812, 8vo. 14. 'The Faith of Catholics confirmed by Scripture and attested by the Fathers of the first five centuries of the Church,' written conjointly with John Kirk, D.D., 8vo, Lond. 1813, 2nd edit. 1830, 3rd edit, revised and greatly enlarged by the Rev. James Waterworth, 3 vols, 1846. 15. 'A Literary History of the Middle Ages ; comprehending an account of the state of learning, from the close of the reign of Augustus to its revival in the fifteenth century,' Lond. 1814, 4to, reprinted in 'The European Library,' Lond. 1846, 12mo, with an introduction by William Hazlitt; and again Lond. 1883, 12mo. A French translation by M. H. Boulard was published in sections.

Several of Berington's works, especially 'The Faith of Catholics,' elicited replies from writers on the protestant side ; and his taste for innovation was censured in 'Remarks on the Writings of the Rev. Mr. Joseph Berington ; addressed to the Catholic clergy of England, by the Rev. Charles Plowden,' 1792.

[Jackson's Oxford Journal, 8 Dec. 1827; Nichols's Illustrations of Literature, v. 685, 690, 721, vii. 485 ; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. viii. 43, 44, ix. 267 : Gent. Mag. lxv. 723, lxix. (ii.) 750, xcviii. (i.) 374 ; Butler's Hist. Memoirs (1822), iv. 455 ; Milner's Supplementary Memoirs, 45, 46 ; pref. to Hazlitt's edit. of Hist, of Literature ; Life of Mary Anne Schimmelpenninck (1859), 36, 123, 174; Biog. Univ. Suppl.; Flanagan's Hist. of the Church in England, ii, 388, 390, 391 ; Home and Foreign Review, ii. 538; Husenbeth's Life of Milner, 26. 63, 97, 100, 397, 402; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. x. 131, 186, 270; Biog. Dict. of Living Authors (1816), 24 ; Burke's Dict, of the Landed Gentry (1868), 89.]

T. C.